Prof. Decker is professor of Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.

A Classis in Disobedience

In the August issue we reported that the 1994 Synod of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), by a vote of 95-89, refused to ratify a change in its Church Order which would allow women to be ordained as ministers and elders. In two related decisions the synod retained the decision of its 1992 synod which encouraged local churches to allow “women to teach, expound the Word of God, and to provide pastoral care, under the supervision of the elders.” Synod of 1994 appointed a study committee to present a definition of “expounding,” which presumably would distinguish it from preaching. The synod also urged local congregations which have already ordained women elders to release them from office by June 1995. An estimated 15 of the 900 congregations in the CRC have ordained women as elders.

At least one Classis has decided not to enforce synod’s latest ruling on this matter. Classis Grand Rapids East met in special session on July 21 at the request of First CRC of Grand Rapids. First Church had decided they would elect only adjunct elders, a position women were allowed to hold since 1992. Since their regular elders serve two-year terms, they are now at the point of having only the pastor as a regular elder. They requested support and direction from the Classis. There were some objections that the meeting was called without sufficient notice, but these were not accepted. A majority of the delegates as well as of the large crowd of visitors felt there was an urgency to respond to First Church’s request.

After much discussion and many questions concerning how exactly to word the motion, the Classis decided “in principle” to disobey the synod’s ban on women in office. Final wording of the motion will be completed at the regularly scheduled Classis meeting in September.

That this is a very serious development ought to be self evident. A Classis has decided to disobey a synodical decision. That’s always very serious. It means that Classis East and its member churches have decided not to follow the ecclesiastical way of protesting the synodical decision and thus attempting to demonstrate to the synod of 1995 that the synod of 1994 was in error. What is more, in this particular instance the synod of 1994 made a strong pronouncement on biblical evidence. The main ground for its decision not to ratify the church order change was that “the clear teaching of Scripture prohibits women holding the offices of minister, elder, and evangelist.” Another ground stated forcefully that it was therefore impossible to leave ordination of women as an option for local churches since “the synod cannot allow what Scripture does not allow.” Classis Grand Rapids East decided “in principle” to “permit its individual churches the freedom to decide whether or not the word ‘male’ in article 3a of the church order is operative in their particular settings.” Classis, by taking this decision, allows what the synod said “the clear teaching of Scripture prohibits.”

Does not this decision of Classis East de facto place the entire Classis outside of the CRC? Serious business indeed!

The repercussions of all this are not likely to be confined to Classis Grand Rapids East. Many of the larger churches and prestigious pulpits (Calvin, Plymouth Heights, Seymore Square) reside in this classis. Many denominational employees, as well as professors at both Calvin College and Seminary, are members of the churches in Classis East.

Another, quite different response to synod’s decision on women in office comes from the co-editors of The Outlook, Rev. and Mrs. Thomas VandenHeuvel. They see synod’s decision as a “Window of Opportunity.” Though they are “plagued with apprehension that Synod 1995 or a subsequent synod will overturn this year’s decision,” the VandenHeuvels say, “this battle is over and we must go on now.”

The actions of Classis Grand Rapids East would indicate that the battle is far from over. Though it is our fervent prayer that our “mother church” will maintain and enforce its 1994 decision, we are convinced it’s only a matter of time before women are allowed to serve in all offices in the CRC.

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The Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America

This denomination, given its long history and its distinctives, took some very important decisions at its synod which met at Geneva College June 18-23. A resolution to resubmit the overture on Query #8 (of the questions put to candidates for office in the RPCNA) to sessions for voting was introduced by Dr. Bruce C. Steward, president of the RP Seminary in Pittsburgh. Dr. Steward’s resolution was passed after the proposed Query revision was amended from “… do you promise not to be addicted to wine, and to show yourself to be a model of sobriety, restraint, and sound judgment in all areas of life?” to “. . . do you promise not to be given to much wine . ..?”

The synod also approved several changes and additions to the RP Testimony regarding women’s and men’s roles. Among these changes or additions are the statements that “the office of elder is restricted in Scripture to men,” and “we deny that the exclusion of women from the office of elder hinders any woman’s divine vocation or neglects any woman’s spiritual gifts for ministry.” These additions and changes must now be sent down in overture to be voted on by sessions and elders.

The synod elected Pastor Jerry O’Neill, of the Columbus, Indiana, RPC, president of the RP Seminary. O’Neill was also appointed professor of pastoral theology. He will assume both positions upon Dr. Steward’s retirement next year.

In an earlier issue we reported on the “Catholic Evangelical Statement” signed by several leading evangelicals (Michael Horton, Richard Mouw, James I. Packer, et. al.). The synod voted to urge Dr. John White, president of Geneva College, to withdraw his signature from the joint statement. Dr. White complied.

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